by Karen Alberg Grossman

Despite concern about the Delta Variant and revised restrictions in certain states, retailers shopping the Dallas market believe their recent sales increases are sustainable. According to most, guys have either gained or lost weight (usually gained) or else they’re eager to move on from their tired, schlump-y, stay-at-home wardrobes. Several merchants say customers are literally donating their old clothes and “starting fresh.” Based on offerings and conversations in Dallas this past weekend, key fashion and business trends going into spring ‘22 include the following:

*Tech fabrics: They’re everywhere in every category. Whether made solely from recycled plastic bottles or blended with natural fibers (for a less slippery hand), shirts, pants, and tailored clothing are now ready to perform, often in lighter weights. “Tech fabrics in custom clothing saved the business during the pandemic,” says Alan Levine, SVP of Trinity Apparel. “Guys can now be as comfortable in tailored as they are in sweats. Our cotton/stretch fabric in a modern version of the poplin suit sheds wrinkles and offers extreme comfort. We follow up with stretch corduroy, comfort gabs, and sport velvets. We’re also launching five-pockets, great outerwear pieces, and sport vests in 12 colors.” Says Rob McCoy at Ballin, “Of course we still do natural fibers: our 130s Loro Piana tropical wool ($118 cost and selling for $295-$375, according to store) sells well but it’s the performance cotton blends and wool blends with stretch that are off the charts. We’re hanging 120,000 units and we’re adding two fabrics.”

*Color and pattern: It’s a long time since such beautiful shades (pastels and brights) are being bought as more than window dressing. Conversational patterns look terrific! Check out tech swimwear from MC2 Saint Barth, shirts from Nicoby (tech fabrics, indigo, linen blends), colorful jeans from 34 Heritage, and exclusive micropattern pants from Brax.

*Indoor Outerwear (Thanks to Alex Julian for the name!): These are all the cool-looking layering pieces that are not exactly sportcoats but serve a similar purpose (providing pockets for stuff!) from simple chore jackets to utility styles to linen overshirts. Here from TailoRed (Italian fabrics in the $118-$130 wholesale range, modeled by John Smallwood), Schneiders Salzburg (modeled by Mick Mraunac), and Alexander Julian ($215-$600 cost, made in the iconic Hickey Freeman Rochester factory) and the “butcher’s jacket” from Sid Mashburn ($495 suggested retail).

*Upscale knits: The category to expand upon. We loved Robert Barakett’s simple sophisticated offerings, Codice’s supersoft cottons, and perfect polos at Hagen.

*Shorts, shorts, shorts! After a serious “shorts shortage” in spring/summer 2021, (Ballin ran out in May and could have sold straight through the summer, says VP Rob McCoy), vendors are investing in the category, even offering in-stock programs. Most southern merchants are stocking shorts year-round; says Casey Ferguson from Hutson Clothing in Austin, “We reordered from everyone until there was nothing left from anyone.” See great shorts at Ballin (adding a tech style with mesh pocketing that can double as swimwear), Brax (stocking shorts in 10 colors including purple, orange, and green), and Stantt (custom made and available in 5, 7, 9, and 11 inch inseams with a two-week turnaround!)

*A genuine focus on sustainability: According to Dino Digirolamo, Brax has switched to organic cotton, natural dyes, virtually no chemicals and greatly reduced water usage; the business will be 90 percent sustainable within 18 months. At Faherty, all processes are being monitored to be as sustainable as possible; 75 percent of their cotton is already organic.

Sandra, Eric, and Dawn at Faherty

*Elevated assortments: Many brands are trading up, using better fabrics and more sophisticated styling. As Oxxford chairman Warwick Jones explains recent increases, “Over the last 18 months, men who have generated capital wish to treat themselves. They don’t want money sitting too long in their pockets, and they’re happy to support a made-in-America garment (with 14,240 hand stitches) priced in the Isaia/Kiton/Brioni range.”

Bob Denton and Chris Brueckner at Oxxford

*Narrower, deeper assortments/increased in-stock programs: More vendors are taking the risk and retailers stand to benefit. (Just don’t let a narrow/deep strategy prevent you from adding a few new resources each season.)

*Social Activism: Kudos to Keith Kinkade for his recent campaign to increase the vaccination rate in Mississippi. Teaming up with three other local businesses, the offer was a $10 gift card upon proof of vaccination plus one out of 100 customers receive a free tailored suit from Kinkade’s. The convincing copy: “We are pro-business and pro-Mississippi. And Mississippi is made up of the best people in the world. So, let’s not miss our shot at staying open.”

Keith Kinkade

*Fall ‘22 Crystal ball: Get ready for pleated pants!